FAI chief executive Jonathan Hill has confirmed that negotiations to extend the contract of Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny would bring the current coaching ticket up to the 2024 European Championships in Germany.
Addressing the FAI national assembly on Monday, Hill defended Kenny when a question from the virtual floor was critical of the 50-year-old’s record since taking over as senior manager in April 2020.
Kenny’s Ireland have managed only four wins from 20 matches, while introducing a modern style of play and capping 16 new players. Since last summer’s training camp in northern Spain, however, the team has lost one from nine matches, and that was because of Cristiano Ronaldo’s 97th minute header at Estadio Algarve.
“Stephen has brought in 15 players from the under 21 set-up and therefore he’s finding the right balance between youth and experience,” Hill was quoted in The Irish Examiner.
“He had more success in that towards the back end of the World Cup qualification campaign. Sadly, we didn’t qualify for the World Cup. I’m working with, and talking to, Stephen about hopefully taking him forward in relation to the Euro 2024 qualification.”
It remains unclear if Hill and Kenny’s agent Eamon McLoughlin will agree terms for a new two-year contract before the Nations League draw in Switzerland on Thursday but the FAI board have removed any hesitancy around the length of the extension.
“Did anyone think that we were favourites to qualify or we should qualify?” Kenny wondered aloud after the damaging home draw with Azerbaijan in September. “We certainly have a plan in place. I have taken the decision, right or wrong, that we would build this squad to be really, really competitive to qualify for Germany 2024.”
In October, following the 4-0 defeat of Qatar, a bullish Kenny stated that Ireland's "ambition" is to win Division B of the 2022 Nations League. This put the emphasis squarely on the FAI to support the manager, and his assistants Keith Andrews, Dean Kiely and Chelsea first team coach Anthony Barry by offering a collective extension up to July 2024. Kenny, who is reportedly earning €540,000 per annum, may have to agree to a severance package should his Nations League ambitions run aground.
The qualifying draw for Germany 2024 does not take place until October 2022 when Ireland will have played a further eight matches under the current management. Kenny’s record after 20 games in charge is won four, drawn eight and lost eight but beating Luxembourg 3-0 away last month, to finish third in their World Cup pool behind Serbia and Portugal, prompted the FAI board to empower Hill to resign the Dubliner.
For Thursday’s draw, Ireland will be joined in pot three by Israel, Romania and Serbia which means they will face two from Ukraine, Sweden, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iceland, Finland, Norway, Scotland and Russia.
After Hill sorts out Kenny’s contract, the FAI chief must switch attention to securing some high-profile March friendlies at the Aviva Stadium and a blue chip jersey sponsor, all the while servicing a €62 million debt.
“Ticketing remains a critical part of our revenue portfolio,” said Hill. “We must keep the momentum going from the Portugal game and we are looking closely at the senior games we’re putting in place for 2022. We will take our season ticket products to the market in the first quarter of the year.”